The Calgary Flames returned to the postseason this week for the first time in two seasons, pitted against the Anaheim Ducks in a first round match-up. While the Flames lost both games in Anaheim by identical 3-2 scores – running their winless streak at the Honda Center to 29 consecutive games – they appeared a much better match for the Ducks than they were when they met two years ago. Three key things became evident during the first two games in Anaheim that may point to the Flames turning things around when the series moves to Calgary for Games 3 and 4.
Forward Depth Is Better Than Expected
Heading into the series, the big question was whether Calgary’s top two lines could hang with Anaheim’s top two lines. The good news is that the groups centered by Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund have been fairly effective in neutralizing the Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler lines. The surprising aspect of this series has been how well Calgary’s third line of Sam Bennett, Kris Versteeg and Alex Chiasson have fared against Anaheim’s third unit of Antoine Vermette, Corey Perry and one of Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie. The Ducks have struggled to contain the Bennett line’s mixture of speed, physicality and creativity. Case in point: Versteeg set up Bennett for a goal in Game 1 with a gorgeous no-look behind-the-back pass. That goal was preceded by a shift where Chiasson made two or three smart moves with the puck to keep possession. Those types of shifts have occurred on several occasions for the Flames.
At even strength, the emergence of the Bennett line as a scoring threat has really caught the Ducks off-guard and given the Flames an advantage in those situations.
Lack of Discipline
Despite playing quite well over the first two games of the series, the Flames are down 2-0 primarily due to a lack of discipline. Simply put: they’re taking dumb penalties at dumb times.
- Dougie Hamilton taking a tripping penalty in the first minute of Game 1 after stopping skating to complain to the officials about a perceived too many men violation by the Ducks. The Ducks power play resulted in a goal and the Flames chasing for much of the remainder of the game.
- Lance Bouma taking a goalie interference penalty immediately after the Flames killed off a Hamilton tripping penalty while the game was tied. The Flames gained momentum from the initial kill and the Ducks scored the eventual game-winning goal on the subsequent power play, killing the Flames’ momentum.
- Hamilton taking a cross-checking penalty in the third period of Game 1 after Mark Giordano took a big hit from Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf. The Flames managed to kill that penalty off, but the penalty halted their momentum in a game they were pushing to tie up.
- T.J. Brodie taking a cross-checking penalty behind the play in the third period of Game 2 on Ducks forward Ryan Kesler. The penalty immediately followed the Flames getting scored on and really hurt their ability to push for a tying goal.
Each of the “discipline” examples had the wrong guy taking the wrong penalty at the precise wrong time, derailing Calgary’s momentum and giving the Ducks several chances to take hold of each game.
Lack of Focus
In addition to displaying a lack of discipline at times, the young Flames group has seemingly wilted at times under the bright lines of the playoffs by displaying a lack of situational focus. Some examples:
- Hamilton’s aforementioned tripping penalty in Game 1.
- All three forwards and both defensemen getting caught on a bad line change in Game 1, resulting on a three-on-none rush for the Ducks and the game-tying goal.
- Bouma’s aforementioned goalie interference penalty in Game 1.
- Jakub Silfverberg’s goal in Game 2, an uncontested wrist shot that just beat Brian Elliott over his shoulder.
- Rickard Rakell’s wrap-around goal in Game 2, on a dump-in play where all of Calgary’s skaters went after the initial puck-carrier and left Rakell all alone.
Each “focus” problem involved the Flames losing track of a player for several seconds, or otherwise stepping over the line and derailing their team’s game plan.
Hope Still Exists
The Flames are down 2-0 in their series. It’s not an ideal start. But the Flames have been able to go toe-to-toe with the Ducks for the most part. If they can rein in some of their disciplinary and focus issues while maintaining the rest of their standard of play, they can potentially push the Ducks to their limit or even win the series.